Why Boloco Needs to Be Your Next Tenant
Note: This was a journal entry written in late 2018 after sending a proposal to John Hancock – who owned the space on Copley Square we were considering at the time. We had a successful location a few doors down but we knew the rent was going to double in 2020 – from around $300K per year to $600K per year – and so our time was limited. This was an attempt to keep a presence in the Copley area where we had been an early mover since opening back in 2011.
None of our proposals were accepted.
After all, we aren’t the newest, the coolest, the richest… sometimes we wonder why we deserve to be in business at all. Perhaps it’s the fact that we do question ourselves, every single day, that has allowed us to survive and usually thrive for the last 20+ years. We’ve seen countless flash-in-the-sky restaurant concepts and chains come and go, always packing up the numerous awards and accolades they received along the way with the used equipment they hope to sell in the brutal secondary market. Usually they end up paying to have someone haul the equipment away – always a reminder how much those awards are really worth.
We’re the ones – Boloco – that believe in forgoing a good chunk of our profits (ie. not maximizing profits at the cost of all other constituents) for the sake of supporting the lives and futures of those doing the day-to-day hard work… believing that in the long-run doing so will pay off for all. Even when that hasn’t been the case (there are no magic bullets in business), we’ve doubled down over and over again on our mission: to use our burritos and bowls to positively impact the lives and futures of our people through bold and inspired food and practices.
We start with our own people. While most of our peers are stretching to average $12/hour on average, Boloco nears $15/hour on average*. We’ve always believed a minimum wage for full-time adults should be a livable wage, and we’ve put our money where our mouth is. In the past 3 years alone, our “giveaway” in terms of additional wages paid vs. market equates to over $2.5M. To make matters more stark, making $14.64 per hour, or $15, or $16, or even $18, doesn’t exactly change things for workers overnight. It’s still a battle for survival, to make ends meet. There are no awards for paying 20% more than market, and there won’t be any awards if/when our average gets to $16 either. But it’s the must-do thing to do… it’s not only right, in our eyes it’s the only way a business can actually be considered a “real business.”
As FDR said 85 years ago… “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” We agree.
To put a capstone on this short piece, it’s critical to point out that Boloco became a B Corporation and a Delaware Benefit Corp in 2016. More than just another meaningless certification (and sticker for a door!), certifying in 2016 and more importantly recertifying in 2018 kicked our collective team asses. Just claiming we do this or do that, for our people, for the environment, for diversity in governance, doesn’t work for B-Lab, the organization responsible for holding B Corps accountable to their high and always rising standards. We barely made it in ’16, and then again barely in ’18. But others in our industry don’t even try – most know for sure they won’t qualify, because it means “maximizing profit for shareholders at the cost of everything else” has been out of the equation for years. As a restaurant, you can’t fake acting like a B Corp… you have to be one from deep inside a team’s ethos first… it’s an inside out process. If it’s not authentic it’s probably not happening. And one final thing, being a B Corp does not imply perfection or anything close to it… it signifies a journey, a commitment to constant improvement, a recognition that what we do effects far more than just the people who enter our so-called 4-walls.
We offered $100 per square foot for 545 Boylston, perhaps as quickly as any other interested suitors when we found out Verts/Noon was out of business. We offered an amount that is traditionally high but currently low compared to market rents. We thought, incorrectly and naively, that perhaps the failures that have been and will continue to stack up in the area will put downward pressure on rents.
We are willing to pay more, but the counter response was $160 per foot, the highest amount I’ve ever seen or thought possible on Boylston Street. Perhaps someone will hit that number, or compromise at $150 or $140 per foot, but the chances of long-term survival for all but the rarest of businesses are slim to none. To add a 6% percent rent clause over natural sales break point demonstrates a complete disconnect from the reality of that space for all but the most successful brands – think In-N-Out, Chick-Fil-A, a few others maybe. Not Chipotle, not Sweetgreen, and certainly not Boloco.
Perhaps none of these considerations matter anymore, but they should. It seems to me that John Hancock has room to think more holistically about a small 2,200+ square foot space in Boston, MA than to simply maximize short-term rents from the next hopeful tenant. Boloco has been a good tenant to many, many landlords over decades, and will continue to do that. In downturns and in upturns we’ve always paid our rents**, been generous in our communities, and stuck to our guns in terms of taking care of our people even when economics and capitalist behavior suggested we do otherwise.
* In 2023, our average wage is close to $20 not including tips which incredibly add another $3-6 per hour worked for each team member. Due to market dynamics, we are no longer much higher than the rest – which is as it should be. The life of a full-time hourly worker at $18-25 per hour is still incredibly difficult with foggy futures in the windshield at best. Work to be done for sure.
** Since the pandemic Boloco can no longer claim to have “always paid our rents”. We had to negotiate forgiveness with our tails between our legs from 2020 on.
Looking back post-pandemic, it was a gift that we were paid to leave our existing space in late 2019 to make way for the first Chick-Fil-A in the City of Boston as well as being rejected for the space owned by John Hancock. Foot traffic in downtown Boston has yet to reach 2019 levels (as of 7/2023) and the impact on most retail and restaurant operations and their landlords are quite significant.